Gunman Taco Truck: Refreshing!

gmtt-4.jpgAfter the monotony of Wasteland Angel and the abject failure of The Underground Man, I was delighted to learn of Gunman Taco Truck from Romero Games. The ultimate surprise came when I looked at the game on Steam and found that it was designed by a 9-year-old boy. With that said, Gunman Taco Truck is an addictive arcade game with a great sense of humor and a steep difficulty curve.

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The premise is simple. Scientists accidentally set off nuclear bombs, killing or mutating almost everything in the United States. One mysterious food truck driver must embark on a cross country trip from San-Diego to Winnipeg, Canada. Gasoline is expensive in the apocalypse. To make ends meet, our hero must slaughter mutants, harvest their meat, and sell delicious tacos.

The gameplay is a nice balance of resource management, lane defense, reflex based shooting, cooking games, and memory. It sounds like a mess of parts, but combined with a powerful premise, it all fits together quite nicely. In fact, I haven’t seen a game that flawlessly pulled together so many elements since Sunless Sea.

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To get meat, you’ll find yourself in a lane based arcade shooter, where you simply have to kill enemies before they get to you. Along the way, you’ll also need to shoot road signs for scrap metal (to upgrade your vehicle) and un-mutated animals for specialty meats. To pay for gas, you need to sell tacos. Here’s the catch: You need extra ingredients (cheese, salsa, cilantro, mold, etc) to fulfill the orders. Each gas station has either a grocer or a mechanic. Prices of items vary at each location. You never really feel safe because no grocer sells every kind of topping. On the one hand, this ensures that you can’t grind tacos. On the other hand, if you run out of toppings then you’re going to have a bad time.

That leads me to the next area: difficulty. Though the game starts out simple, the difficulty curve pulls up so hard it’s almost at an overhang. If you fail to upgrade your vehicle (or can’t find enough scrap metal) you’ll be eaten alive by super-mutants and giant frogs. The farther you go, the more enemies you face. In other words, the late-game quickly becomes bullet hell.

Now I mentioned that nobody sells every kind of taco topping. That turns out to be a major downside in this game. Some ingredients (salsaespecially) are included in almost every recipe. Unfortunately, I found that (because the game uses RNG) some ingredients are incredibly hard to find. I’ve had at least seven “Game Over” screens simply because no one was selling salsa.

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Though difficult, the visuals make gameplay rewarding. There’s a huge number of mutants, meats, and weapons in the world. Sprites are fun, colorful, and cartoonish. Great feedback, colors, and “hurt” sprites help the player navigate harder levels. Close ups of customers are charming and seem to invoke the art-style of Papers, Please.

It’s also worth noting that the game is honestly funny. After feeding hungry customers, you receive reviews. There’s a lot of flavor text and references that contributes to the tone and humor, without distracting the player. Finally, there’s the kid friendly “pinata mode”. Instead of exploding into a thousand bloody bits, enemies will explode into candy and stuffed animals. This is a great extra addition and highlights the care that went into this project.

I love games that you can jump into and play for 30 minute sessions; “Gunman Taco Truck” is no exception. From its fast gameplay to its charming premise, this is a welcome addition to your library of post-apocalyptic games. My one caveat would be price; Gunman Taco Truck sells for $11.99. Regardless, when compared to other post-apocalyptic indie games, this is a breath of fresh air.

If you’re interested in Gunman Taco Truck, you can get it here.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: Benny

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Con-man, pacifist, business woman, Nazi, scientist. Five improbable entities stuck together in a pit of darkness. A prolonged nightmare of 109 years conducted by a sadistic self-aware supercomputer with unlimited power. This is Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

Although on the surface IHNMAIMS is a straightforward story about five people trapped in an endless underground complex after a nuclear war, it has transcended into a franchise. The human characters from the short story were greatly expanded upon in the 1995 video game while the supercomputer, AM, gained some depth in a 2001 radio drama. A comic adaptation was created but never published, though a few English panels and the full Spanish version found their way onto the internet. This has become one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories due to the development of the characters and the themes at play.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll break down each of the humans: exposing their fatal flaws and then identifying what led them to redemption (and further punishment).

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Benny can hardly be recognized as once human.

We’ll start with Benny, who has always been AM’s favorite torture toy. Originally, he was a brilliant scientist. It is never explained why AM hates Benny more than the others, but for whatever reason he was reduced to a hunchback ape-like creature. His handsome features replaced by a network of fissures and radiation scars.

Aside from his physical body, AM takes pleasure in altering Benny’s mental abilities. However, I have to wonder if altering Benny’s mind is the best use of AM’s power. By reducing the scientists’ mental faculties, AM only makes it more difficult for Benny to appreciate the irony of his situation. A scientist unable to express his ideas is far more torturous than a scientist who is reduced to a babbling fool. Benny is like a servitor in Warhammer 40,000. His mind has been altered, but that doesn’t affect him, only those that once knew him. Perhaps that was the goal. So long as he is crippled, blind, and dumb Benny requires constant care and attention from his four companions.

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Expanding on Benny’s altered mind, it really doesn’t matter if Benny was once homosexual if his mind has been altered. Again, that was a different person, not the creature that now inhabits AM’s belly. As long as AM tampers with his mind, he cannot appreciate the irony of being forced to sleep with Ellen for 109 years. Originally, the game adaptation was going to deal with Benny’s sexual preference, but ultimately the character was completely revamped and given a new backstory.

In the video game, Benny was the commander of an American commando squad fighting in a Chinese rice patty during World War III. While deployed, Benny killed four of his squad mates. The reasons for the first murder is unclear, but it is implied that one squad mate couldn’t pull his weight and another tried to help him. Lacking compassion, Benny killed both of them for showing weakness. When the others found out, Benny murdered them as well. Something to briefly consider is that if AM was created to oversee a war too complex for human minds, then it is possible Benny’s orders came from the great machine.

Interestingly, Benny’s initial psych profile is about cannibalism. This has led some fans to theorize that Benny cannibalized his squad mates, just as he attempted to cannibalize Gorrister in the original story.  However, cannibalism is hardly included in the final game. If Benny even attempts to eat someone, he will be sent back to the campfire. This is odd as AM even calls the villagers prey. Unable to eat the village’s only food source, Benny was intended to cannibalize the tribe. Indeed, a deleted scene from early promotional footage shows that Benny was supposed to eat a live baby

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Benny the Baby Burglar

The great thing about Benny’s psychodrama is that his mind is clear, but his body is crippled. Benny has become like the soldiers he once murdered. In a delicious bout of irony, Benny knows what he wants, but is forced to rely on the compassion of others and to display compassion in his own actions. Benny starts the scenario as a little more than a starving animal. By the end of the story, his stomach has been filled and he has made amends with those he wronged. Although Benny sacrificed himself to protect another, it hardly matters. Benny is effectively immortal; AM would never let him die. Sacrificing himself for another is merely symbolic and serves no real purpose other than to confuse AM. In the context of the psychodrama, the villagers don’t really exist. Even if there was a tribe of humans living inside the complex, Benny offering himself will only prolong the inevitable offering of the mutant child. The ending only serves to ease Benny’s state of mind.elder

Benny is an interesting character simply because of what he means to AM. In the original story the others are mentally altered, but physically intact. Benny is physically and mentally augmented until he no longer resembles the man he once was. He is a burden on the others, a constant reminder of what could happen to them if they misbehave. He has no consciousness and he must scream.

2016-12-14_0959Is augmenting Benny’s mind an effective form of torture? Tell us in the comments!

Wasteland Angel: The Mad Max Arcade

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Wasteland Angel is a post-nuclear themed vehicular arcade shooter from indie developers Octane Games. I like to pick up any post-apocalyptic games I can find, especially indie games, just to see how they use the setting. With that in mind, Wasteland Angel is a serviceable top-down arcade shooter, though not an especially great post-apocalyptic arcade shooter.

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Although an arcade shooter, Wasteland Angel boasts a story, told in comic book form, about the titular Angel (essentially a female Mad Max) driving across post-nuclear America to find an old acquaintance. In her quest, she will pass through a number of villages, each of which is being attacked by slavers with either a generic raider, Russian militant, or super mutant theme.

There are six chapters in Wasteland Angel, each of which is split into four levels. The first two levels always consist of slaughtering wave after wave of enemies as they try to abduct settlers from the local village. The third level is a boss battle in which you must “trick” a super vehicle into running over a napalm trail or land mines. The fourth level is a bonus round in first person, either a rampage mission or a race (against time, not AI cars).

Unfortunately, this formula gets old very quickly. There’s just not enough variety, either in enemies or gameplay. Once you’ve played the first two chapters, there’s really no reason to continue unless you want to finish the story.
The first two missions of every chapter are incredibly tedious as you must fight off hundreds of vehicles across 20+ waves. Worse is that there’s little variety in enemies. Even the boss battles are recycled.

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Same boss fight. New coat of paint.

There are three enemies in Wasteland Angel with a different coat of paint for each faction:

  1. Vehicle that only attacks you
  2. Vehicle that either attacks you or collects slaves
  3. Vehicle that only collects slaves

Occasionally, enemies will use your own items against you (some will leave a trail of napalm behind them), but between monotonous waves and little enemy variation, there’s not a lot to see here.

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It’s fun to make enemies SPLAT!

All this isn’t to say that Wasteland Angel isn’t fun. Although fleeting, there is some fun to be had with the vehicular aspect as well as the wasteland motif. Being that you’re in a car, your car makes wide, realistic turns. Guns only point toward the front of the car, meaning that players who adopt naval strategy will find themselves with more health and more time. Interestingly, cars react somewhat realistically to bullets. If bullets only graze your target, no damage is done and the player is treated to a metallic ping.  When a car is satisfyingly destroyed, it will often leave a driver in its place who will either shoot at the player or run away. Bonus points are granted for splattering raiders with your car. There’s great combat feedback and the car controls feel like Mad Max, albeit with more bullets, rockets, and mini-nukes.

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Challenge me! Show me your high score!

                Wasteland Angel’s tone and art style lies somewhere between Mad Max and Fallout. Small details, such as kneecappers, were added to enemy cars to make them look more wastelandish. The bandit character models are surprisingly detailed in a classic Road Warrior style. However, the Fallout art style shines through in the titular Angel, who wears a pink skirt and a pink bow-tie in her hair.  The opening menu and the post-mission score card both take on a 1960s pinup motif, adding to that Fallout feel. Additionally, Wasteland Angel includes super mutant rip-offs for its final act. Unfortunately, because the game chose a middle of the road approach to its art style, it inevitably comes off as generic. There are hundreds of pictures of post-apocalyptic cars on Deviantart, but many of them are drawn in the same style, a style which Wasteland Angel followed as well.

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You only see enemies up close in bonus missions, but they’re surprisingly detailed!

Finally, I’m not sure that the post-nuclear atmosphere was the best choice for this game.
I enjoyed it, but there’s a dissonance between the setting and the action. The post-apocalyptic genre is always about scarcity in one form or another, but Wasteland Angel has the player firing hundreds of bullets per second while facing off against hundreds of enemies in a single battle. Infinite ammo and near infinite enemies don’t really reflect the setting Octane Games has chosen.
This game would have worked better as the story of a sci-fi bounty hunter saving planetary settlers from space pirates. Such a narrative would have better connected with the gameplay and could have improved review scores.

As it stands, Wasteland Angel is fun for maybe an hour. There are some fun aspects with the car controls, bonus missions, and weapons, but they don’t make up for the long and tedious missions or the copy/pasted boss battles. Although I always try to recommend a piece of media to some specific person, I can only recommend Wasteland Angel for 30-45 minutes. It’s forgettable

If you’re interested in Wasteland Angel you can get it here.